Enough to send a shiver down the spine of even the most emotionally hardened teacher, the teacher secret Santa is a hazardous experience. Not only is there a pressure to participate, there is also a good chance that it will be the single worst experience a teacher is likely to have when it comes to receiving gifts at school.
I absolutely loathe the Christmas season for many reasons; the enforced frivolities and joy circulating is far too much for me to tolerate. But the teacher secret Santa is at the very top of my Grinch list.
For me, the process is an emotional rollercoaster from start to finish, often rich in personal humiliation – and it’s only when you reach the very end of the ritual that you get to know whether you have been mortally wounded by passive aggressive gifting.
Secret Santa: What not to give
Inspired by a recent Twitter thread, let me talk you through the top five worst types of gift you can give (or receive).
5. The wholly inappropriate
Coming in at number five, it's the wholly inappropriate gift. Whether it’s kinky “Mrs Claus” underwear, or a bra made solely from edible snowflakes, no secret Santa seems to pass without some poor soul having the ghastly moment of being sexualised by her colleagues.
So, if you’re considering buying a recently heartbroken colleague a blow-up boyfriend, or your line manager holly wreaths for her nipples, perhaps think twice about this before going ahead.
Maybe consider the advice we give to students: would you give it to your nan? If not, probably don’t give to your colleague either.
4. The ‘I don’t know who you are’
The problem with anonymous gifting is that it allows those who can’t muster half an ounce of effort to show that they have even heard of the person that they’re buying for to get away with their lack of care.
Got a nut allergy? You can guarantee some thoughtful soul will gift you some of those infamously awful sugared almonds. Don’t drink? That’s an easy way to guarantee a feast of alcohol tipples! Got a new baby? You’re getting an alarm clock! Liverpool fan? Of course, you’re getting a Manchester United calendar. (OK, that last one might be more appropriate, given they’re the superior team in my humble opinion, but the point still stands.)
The message is simple: find out at least some basic information about the recipient of your gift. And then apply that knowledge as you’re purchasing a present.
3. The personal insult
A set of scales is never an appropriate gift for a human being. Ever.
Especially one from the maths department that you only see every Inset day.
A book called “Secrets of a middle-aged woman” is never an appropriate gift either, even if the recipient is indeed a middle-aged woman.
And woe betide the man who buys me a “how to live a stress-free life” manual. You can fully expect to the recipient to not be thankful if you even so much as consider this type of gift appropriate.
2. The WTF?
The sheer scale of random gifts that seem to make their way into secret Santa really does horrify and impress me in equal measure.
From a single pack of tissues, to a wrapped banana, to some knitted biscuits, please just take a moment and consider whether anyone would open your gift and immediately think “What the...?” If they would, just know that this is not the gift to give, no matter how tired you are or how quirky you think it is.
In the top spot is the ultimate in Christmas humiliation: nothing
Just don’t be that person. If you’re stupid enough to sign up, be stupid enough to get a gift. If you’re absolutely desperate, get your secret Santa a framed photo of your headteacher and claim you thought you were doing “shit secret Santa”.
Amy Forrester is an English teacher and director of pastoral care (key stage 4) at Cockermouth School in Cumbria. Views expressed are her own, and not necessarily that of her employer